St Magnus International Festival & Composer Course

So I spent from 10th-24th June 2017 on the beautiful Orkney Islands, attending the most phenomenal composition course and festival, with the marvellous composition tutors Alasdair Nicolson and Sally Beamish.

There were 8 composers on the composers course, and this ran alongside the writing and conducting courses, 9 and 8 individuals in each respectively.

Our task, before arriving in Orkney, was to create a piece that was near finished, but had room for improvement and changes; this should have been about 5-6′ of material. Mine ended up being 7′. Throughout the course we worked extensively with some of the best musicians I’ve encountered, The Assembly Project. Their dedication and commitment to workshopping, playing, rehearsing, tweaking, and finally performing all 8 new pieces was absolutely stunning. Every composer on the course was thrilled about their time with the ensemble, and even more thrilled about the results during the final performance.

As part of this project the composers were each paired with a conductor from the conducting course, and my wonderful collaborative partner was Tom Coult, a brilliant musician who is both a composer and conductor – there was no one better for my piece. A non-stop, ever changing, theatrical onslaught needs a conductor who understands the whacky wants of composers, and Tom was exactly that!

I hope my piece hasn’t scared all the players away! A big shout out to Fraser Langton for being the best diva on stage!


Alongside this project, we also collaborated with those on the writers course. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with two writers – Aileen Ballantyne, and Kate Oldfield. Their poetry was extraordinary, and the composers were to compose short string quartets in response to these poems. The string quartets were workshopped by the wonderful Gildas Quartet. One of mine was definitely successful, the other lesser so, but the poetry was nonetheless stunning. I’m hoping to collaborate further with both writers in the future.

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding projects of the course, was the collaboration with Hear My Music, an organisation that helps those who have learning difficulties experience music making. All the composers were paired with a child from a local school in Kirkwall; the children all composed and provided a bit of musical material as a starting point for the composers on the course to write something for The Assembly Project (again! they must have been fed up of us!). I was paired with a lovely girl called Evie, who provided me with 6 notes. I found out that Evie likes mysterious shipwrecks, so I tailored the 6 notes to that kind of mood. During the concert I noticed how a lot of children found some of the pieces very difficult to cope with, either being too tense, not resolving, or not to their taste. After the concert I discovered that Evie really liked it! So at least one person was definitely happy!!

During all of this we were supported by Alasdair and Sally, who both provided the most invaluable advice. There was also a wonderful workshop with Rafal Łuc, a Polish accordion player, who introduced us to its amazing contemporary repertoire. And of course this was all complimented by all of the concerts in the festival!

I stayed in a place called Berstane House, which was a 30 minute walk into Kirkwall, with 3 other composers, all of whom I’ve come to greatly respect, and hope I will keep in touch with! (That also goes for the rest of the people on the course too!). Berstane overlooks the sea, and has the most stunning views, views that no photo can do justice.We also had the most marvellous views of cows and sheep (pretty good pictures of those though!), pretty much in 360.

The opening reception took place at The Sound Hub, a new club for Kirkwall, in the presence of Norwegian Royalty! Many a night was spent at the Festival Club (the same place) with all the musicians, performers, composers, conductors and tutors – I was introduced to Kirkjuvagr Gin and I think I may be hooked!

As the course was so intense with so much work and revising of scores, there was very little free time! But with some perseverance, however, and a few days spare at the end I managed to fit in some trips with my Berstane-housemate Matt Grouse, an absolutely fantastic composer, based in Glasgow, Derrick Morgan, a conductor based in Edinburgh, and some of Matt’s friends. We went to Stromness, Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar, The Standing Stones, Scapa Beach and Scapa Distillery.

Alasdair, Sally, Tom, Matt, David, Mike, Lillie, Angela, Carol, Anselm, Derrick, Fraser, Fenella, Emma, Rachael, Ian, Clea, Emily, & everyone else involved in the 2017 St Magnus International Festival, thank you so much for making it the most incredible experience, I will cherish the memories I made with all of you.




Secrets Untold Devour

I have recently finished a piece for the wonderful Jennie Boase, a trumpet player at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The piece is titled Secrets Untold Devour, it’s around 14 minutes long, and is for trumpet, piano and percussion. Jennie commissioned the piece as part of her Major Project, where 4th year students undertake a large project to show their skills in a number of different areas, not just performance or composition.

Jennie’s goal with her Major Project was not just one for the sake of fulfilling an academic requirement: her goal was to get composers to write a varied set of adventurous works that will encourage other trumpet players to work with more than just the available means, which she tells me is as a soloist, sometimes with piano, mostly without, or as various brass ensembles. There is a void of chamber music for trumpet that needs to be filled!

Working with Jennie thus far has been a fantastic experience, she has walked me through the trumpet, and showed me many of the marvellous merits it has. As part of this project Jennie is taking the mammoth task of learning all of these pieces by February 2017 and recording them after. The result will be a CD, and I am so excited to work further with Jennie and for the CD.

I’ll keep you posted!


Return to go forward

I have returned to the University of Birmingham for my masters, which I’m doing by research. I tend to fall asleep in classrooms, so I am giving the research approach a go! Sometimes I think going back is a bad idea, but sometimes one can also really benefit from having familiarity, whilst taking the challenge from a new changed angle.

So with new studies comes a new website, something a bit cleaner, tasteful and hopefully more stylish!

I’m currently also re-thinking my research ideas. I was originally going to pursue research into vocal music, and the relationship of the voice with other mediums including electronics, text, dance and choreography, and theatre. Whilst I still think this research is worthwhile, I’m currently having ideas for many other compositional endeavours, some of which I think are more interesting, such as exploring emotionality, expression, dramatic and teleological structures, and the Romantic in the Postmodern Era, insofar that I can still create vocal works, but also venture out into other mediums. I also have a number of performers and friends asking me for works, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

I am looking forward to whatever this year may have in store for me, and for you!

Until later,



The Not So Little Discovery

On Saturday 27th June I travelled down to Dartington. After a wonderful journey with my Grandparents and my cousins (please note the sarcasm) I entered into a world that was entirely surreal. 

The grounds of Dartington are enormous, and it took me quite a while to find out where I was going. I must have got lost at least five times! 

The first person I met was a recorder player named Caroline, who I got along with very well! As the week progressed I gradually met more and more people, both young and old. I was incredibly shocked at the number of people at Dartington, especially the number of students and the number of older people; there were no middle aged people attending the school. 

Some of the people were composers, but the majority were early instrumentalists and singers, as the first week of Dartington is traditionally dedicated to Early Music. 

Other people who I got to know well, or at least as well as one can within a week, were Claudio, Chloë, Louis, Mark and Ray, who were all wonderful people! I also met a lot, and I mean a lot of people with the name John… 

 I was enrolled on two courses, choir and Song, but I also attended an Emma Kirkby masterclass, which was really informative. It is a shame to say that the main course I was there for (song) was unstructured and poorly run. I didn’t learn a thing. In the choir I sang part of the bass section of Rosenmüller’s Vespers; Rosenmüller is a composer who was completely unknown to me, WITH GOOD REASON! Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, even though the music was pretty bad. 

I composed my piece on Wednesday, and was fairly pleased with it. I had a tutorial with Dominic the next morning, and I thought that he too was pleased with it. That was until it was workshopped. He decided to criticise the piece and verbally rip me apart, and this is something he did in front of the entire group. I was so shocked , after all he said nothing in the tutorial. Every member of the class was also surprised at how cutting he was, some even told him after the class how harsh he was, so he later came and found me to see if I was OK. I was OK, but as with all people I come to not like, I was highly defiant to his suggestions and thoughts. 

The person I received the most help off was James Weeks, a very successful composer and conductor. I learnt an awful lot in a very short space of time off him. 

I attended many concerts, and most of them were early music: Emma Kirkby, Ensemble Meridiana, The City Musick, Fretwork, Exaudi and a contemporary music concert. After the contemporary music concert Mr Woolrich invited Chloë, Claudio and I back to his VIP lounge for drinks and snacks! Chloë and I attended, but Claudio did not feel that he could attend for fear of being an underaged drinker! 

The food at Dartington was a disaster, sometimes I didn’t even eat because there were just so few, or awful options. Even the waiters and those serving food made the food even worse just by being there. They were the moodiest bunch of people I have ever come across! 

All of the above being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Dartington and I learnt a lot! I cannot wait for next year so that I can attend again! Hopefully I will be able to do the Advanced Composition course…who knows? 

NB. I will be posting more on Singapore/Thailand and Cambodia, it’s just this was already written for me to type up!